I wake in the grey half-light of the early dawn. The blinds are shut tight, but the room is starting to emerge from the nighttime shadows. I uncurl from the ball I am so accustomed to sleeping in—rolled tight on my right side—like one of those bugs you find under a flowerpot after it rains. I stretch and pull on my glasses to see my bedside clock. I squint as I read it. It’s an old analogue thing—the kind your grandmother had. I found it in an antique shop in Brooklyn three summers ago with my sister.
I roll over. My husband sleeps soundly next to me. I like watching him sleep. I’ve done it since we were dating. He doesn’t know it. I like to watch the soft rhythm of his chest—the steady up and down that lets me know he is still there. That he will wake up and be mine for one more day. I’ve always had that kind of outlook on life, like everything is fleeting. It makes me cling to things and people sometimes longer than is wise.
I turn back over on my right side and lay my glasses back on the bedside table. Glancing at the clock before I do.
I pull the covers up to my chin, closing my eyes against the pail morning. But I don’t fall back asleep. Instead I listen. I listen to the settling of our old house. I listen to our neighborhood just waking up. One car starts somewhere down the street and I can hear the distant humming of the highway as early commuters get on the road. A dog barks. A train whistles. The garbage truck rubbles down the street.
I open my eyes.
I’m obviously awake for the day. I reach for my glasses.
I pull back the covers and reach for my bathrobe at the end of the bed, sliding it over my naked body. I’ve always slept naked. Even at 16 when it felt slightly scandalous.
My feet touch the cold hardwood floor. I recoil and look for the socks I dropped on the floor before getting under the covers last night. Our house is old. It doesn’t keep the heat. My husband says we need better insulation. I say we need a better house. It’s a post World War II bungalow and it has its charms. The sweet little built in bookshelves, the brick fireplace, the cozy eat-in kitchen with the window overlooking the street that I loved so much when we moved in. It’s the kind of house my grandmother would have called a starter home. Perfect for young married couples just starting out in life. A perfect home in which to start a family.
I trudge to the bathroom. It’s a clean, crisp white. Black and white tiles on the floor—black matted finish on all the hardware. A white tub, sink and toilet. It’s bight and beautiful. Or at least that’s what it looks like when it’s clean. The scene today is more realistic of everyday life. Hair products on the vanity, towels that should have been thrown in the wash a few days ago still hanging on the towel rack. Soap scum around all the drains. And if you look too closely at that black and white tile you will see all the dirt and grim that has gathered there over the three years we’ve lived here. Sure I clean the floor, but who really has time to get down there and scrub those lines with a toothbrush? Growing up my mother always had a housekeeper. I never understood the value of a housekeeper until I had my own place. What I wouldn’t give to come home from work everyday and find this place spotless.
I wash my face with ice-cold water from the hot water tap, shiver, and reach for my toothbrush. I’m not one of those people who showers everyday. I like to say its because I’m conserving water, saving the environment and all, but really I’m just too lazy. I put on make up, brush my hair, and tie it into a loose side braid. Looking at myself in the mirror I see the bags under my eyes that other women are always complaining about—and the lines to the sides of my eyes, the crow’s feet. I never really noticed myself aging. For the longest time I felt like I was 22. But lately I see those signs of aging that my mother is forever using creams to cover—the bags, the wrinkles, the crow’s feet. Even the occasional grey hair. I guess 32 is when it all finally starts going down hill.
I pull my bathrobe open a little and look at my breasts. Still pretty perky. I cup them and do a half hearted breast exam. When I’m done I keep holding them. Looking at the weird, pink, tender skin. Wondering if they will ever be used for their intended purpose. I feel a lump in my throat but swallow it, tie up my robe and leave the bathroom.
I walk back into the bedroom. My husband is still fast asleep. Burrowed under a mountain of blankets. He can sleep anywhere at any time. I once set the fire detector off while cooking; it took 20 minutes to get it to stop beeping. He was taking a nap—it never fazed him. This morning I open dresser drawers and slam them shut hard. I rummage through the closet pulling out clothes and laying them on the bed over his sleeping body. He doesn’t notice. I love and hate this about him. I love that he has the ability to sleep no matter what is happening. To shut out the world and the thoughts that crowd his mind during the day and just go to sleep. He just shuts off.
I also hate this about him because I want to shut off too. I want to push the thoughts that swim around my head everyday out and just go to sleep. I want to stop waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweats and my mind racing. I want to stop remembering every single moment of that day…
I decide on a grey sweater and skinny jeans and slam the closet door. He doesn’t even budge. How is that possible?
I head for the kitchen and the coffee. I glance at the clock on the stove as I’m filling the kettle.
I put the kettle back on the stove and turn the flame up as high as it will go. I think about breakfast but realize I’m not very hungry. I open the fridge, anyway. All I find is an apple, some yogurt with an expiration date of over a week ago, and a loaf of bread. I shut it with a sinking heart. Everyday I do something, see something that reminds me of what could have been and everyday I see signs of the fact that maybe I wasn’t ready. If I can’t remember to buy groceries or throw out the old yogurt then maybe I was never ready to be a mother.
Mothers have to be responsible. Mothers have to cloth and feed a baby. Mothers have to make grocery lists and dinner and arrange play dates in the park. Mothers have to know how to keep their babies alive.
The kettle whistles and I grind the coffee, dump it into the French Press and pour the water over it, watching the grounds bloom and foam. I set the little the little kitchen time and wait.
It’s snowing. The window over the kitchen sink looks out over the street. Our neighbor across the way is brushing snow off of his car. I watch him for a while before he goes inside to let the car warm up. That’s an environmental waste, I think, but then again we live in Wisconsin and the thermometer outside my kitchen window says -3.
The little timer beeps and I press the coffee down slowly. It feels good to do this every day—to move through this ritual of coffee making. Boil the water, grind the coffee, let it steep, press. These steps never change. The result is always the same and for that I am grateful. I want something in my life to have the same result. I want something in my life to be constant.
I pour a mug and move it to my lips. It’s so hot that it burns my tongue but I drink it anyway. I
welcome the burning feeling. I welcome any feeling.
Outside kids are starting to make their way to the bus stop. I hear them chattering as they trudge through the fresh snow. One little boy doesn’t have snow boots and stops to kick snow out of his sneakers. I wonder if that would have been my child. The one without the snow boots because I forgot to buy it a pair and I’ve been too busy with work and other things. Or maybe I just keep forgetting.
It would have been born last month. Whatever it was. That was its due date. January 3rd.
“Maybe we will have a new years baby,” My husband said when we found out.
I imagined how fun it would be to be pregnant through the Christmas season. My favorite season. Shopping in Milwaukee with my mom and sister. Waddling around with the big fat belly. I wasn’t going to be one of those pregnant women who sat around not doing anything during her pregnancy. I was going to get up and be active up until the day I delivered.
I thought about how fun it would be to chop down Christmas trees with my husband’s family, his sister and sister-in-law giving me advice on labor and delivery and making remarks about their kids, now toddlers, and how they miss having babies to cuddle. I imagined and I dreamed and I wanted to savor every moment.
What I did not imagine was the morning I woke up with cramps. Cramps so much worse than any period. What I did not imagine was that I would be all alone, my husband gone on a business trip. What I did not imagine was crawling to the bathroom, pulling down my pajama bottoms and finding blood. It wouldn’t stop. The beautiful white of our bathroom floor stained red.
I did not imagine that he would be in a conference already that morning and wouldn’t answer his phone. Wouldn’t know anything was wrong until I was already home from the hospital and the little thing I was growing inside of me was gone.
I touch my belly as I stand at the kitchen window.
I’m afraid to try again. I’m afraid to be touched or held or loved because I can’t do what I am built to do.
How long does it take until you want to try again?
I watch another group of children head for the bus stop. Their laughter cuts me. Am I always going to be haunted like this? By what could have been? By what should have been?
Am I always going to feel like I failed to do the thing that my body was made to do, the thing that is the most animal and natural thing about a woman?
Am I always going to feel alone? Like some great grey weight is sitting on my chest and no one,
nothing can lift it off?
“Let’s try again,” says my husband. And I recoil in fear.
I don’t know how I move or stand or get out of bed from day to day.
“It wasn’t even the size of an avocado,” a friend told me.
But I can’t help it.
It was mine.
I hear the alarm in the bedroom buzz. He stirs. Not because he’s heard the buzzer but because he is a creature of habit. His body would know with or without the buzz of that little alarm clock I found in Brooklyn. His body does not fail him.
I hear him turn over. He says my name in that low sleepy morning voice he has.
I stay where I am.
He will come find me. He will kiss me softly, tell me he loves me and I will do the same. But we won’t talk about it. We’re long past talking about it. I bear this weight on my own now.
Inside me, forever, no matter what else I grow in my belly there will always be a void and I will never be the woman that I was before this happened to me. I will never be whole.